Southwark Theatre



  • The first permanent theater built in Philadelphia and possiblythe first in America. David Douglas, manager of the American Company,opened it in 1766 on South Street outside the city's jurisdiction.The red building had a brick lower storey and a timber upper halftopped by a cupola. The first production on its stage, lit by oillamps, was Vanbrugh's The Provoked Wife, presented on 12 November.A year later the Southwark presented Thomas Godfrey's The Princeof Parthia, the first work by a US-born playwright to receivea professional staging.

    The Southwark, known informally as the South Street Theatre,was closed by the Continental Congress in 1774 and briefly becamea hospital during the War of American Independence. British troopsreopened it in 1778 to raise money for widows and orphans; a dropcurtain added by a British major at this time continued in use forthe life of the theater. The American Company returned in 1784 togive 'moral lectures' - a device to avoid a local prohibitionagainst play-acting. From 1789 the Southwark returned to regular presentations.However, new competitors reduced its profits and a fire in 1821 wasthe coup de grâce.